Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Fire

Sometimes when I look back at my life so far, I am struck by how extraordinary it has been. Life has not been boring, that's for sure! Even though my goal has been to live a quiet, simple life- I find that often times, things happen in my life that just don't really happen to too many other people!

Case in point: right after college, I moved from Indiana to San Francisco and took a job as a graphic designer for The Gap. I moved into a house with six other roommates- the same house where The Real World: San Francisco was once filmed. I got settled, I was a single girl with my first "real job"- life was good. I was 21 years old, and life was so open to possibilities. Then eight months later, on June 8, 2000, at 3:20am, everything changed.

Kitchen Post-Fire:

Side-View of Kitchen:

More Kitchen:

I was asleep when a fire, set off by a burning candle in the bedroom next to mine, raged through the house. In a matter of minutes, everything was gone. By the time I woke up, the entire house was engulfed in flames. The walls were on fire, the curtains were on fire, my shoes were on fire! The windows had shattered from the heat, and smoke was so thick you could not see two inches in front of your face. I had about 15 seconds to get out of the house (my bedroom was on the second floor) before I would have passed out from smoke inhalation and been burned alive.

Miraculously, everyone in the house made it out alive. I have learned that in fires like this, people often do not make it out alive. So easily, I could have lost my life that night. 15 seconds. That's it.

One of Many Firetrucks At The Scene:

Personal possessions thrown out my bedroom window by firefighters:

The fire was intense- it took every material possession I had ever owned in a matter of minutes. My parents' wedding rings were gone. The journals I had written over my entire life were gone. Photographs of my most precious memories, also gone. And of course, every scrap of clothing, every book, my computer, even my toothbrush - gone.

It was also quick, fast, unexpected, and violent. Being trapped inside that house was terrifying and left me emotionally shocked for years afterwards.


I would wake up in the middle of the night with dreams of my internal organs burning me alive from the inside out. I could not be around even a candle. I could not eat food that had been cooked...burned, in my mind. To this day, I still wake up in the middle of the night to make sure the stove has been turned off. I am reminded of lasting traces of the fire all the time. It was a defining moment for me.

The fire also gave me gifts. It gave me an appreciation for life, and also made me realize that the things we have in our lives- "the stuff"- is all just stuff.

The Stairwell:


Some people think my life was spared because God wasn't through with me yet, or my life had a special purpose not yet realized. I am not arrogant enough to go there. I have seen too many good people die- parents gripped by cancer who leave small children behind, teenagers killed in senseless car accidents- to think that God spared me somehow.

But, for whatever reason- whatever twist of fate- I was spared...and it was a miracle...and for that, I am grateful and have consistently tried to make my life worthy of a great purpose since the day I was given this second chance at life.

Closet Next To My Bedroom:

So, why am I bringing all this up now?

A few days ago, I got a Facebook friend request and email from one of my roommates in the fire. I hadn't talked to her in almost nine years, since the fire happened. She just did a commercial for Mutual of Omaha about the fire, and she talked about how it transformed her life. Her story and link to her video is here:

It was so interesting reconnecting with her after all these years. After chatting with her over email, I went through the pictures I took of the aftermath of the fire. In a moment, I was transported back to that day. I haven't looked at those pictures in over eight years, since I picked them up from the photo lab (that was back in the know, when we used actual film in our cameras).

My Bedroom:

The View Out My Bedroom Window The Day After The Fire:

The fire was covered in USA Today and in the San Francisco Chronicle, because the house we lived in was famous, and the fire was so big and destructive. I remember it being surreal reading about something so monumental in my life in these newspapers. For so many people, they read that story, and then tossed their paper aside, went on with their day, and promptly forgot about it. For me, of course, I live with that story every day.

It was a defining moment in my life. The defining moment? No. Somehow I have had enough of these defining moments throughout my life to fill volumes! For example, in just the few weeks after the fire: An electrical transformer exploded on top of me while I was walking down the street, a 2x4 board flew through my car's front windowshield while I was driving cross-country (missing my head by two inches), and I got sick with Scarlet Fever. And that was just in the three weeks following the fire! All that, as unbelievable as it sounds, is true...and is a story for another day!

1 comment:

TDM Wendy said...

Oh my word. That is crazy. And all that stuff that happened to you afterwards. I do believe God has something special in store for you life (not that other people got short-changed by God. Like our baby girl. But I do believe God has a plan for it all. His ways are not my ways, but man... look at how close you have come to death!). Powerful post. Thanks for sharing.